Interview with Christian Artist Leslie Woods

Writer Kevin Ott At Rocking Gods HouseLeslie Wood is a new Christian pop artist signed with INOV8 Music Group. She recently released a four-song EP and a top-notch music video directed by Hollywood veteran Joseph Q. Simpkins (Adrenaline, The X-Files, Dawson’s Creek) to promote her catchy single “Clueless.” Leslie also had a cameo in the upcoming Christian film Adrenaline, starring John Schneider (Smallville, Dukes of Hazzard) a
nd other notable stars. All of this success, however, was not handed to her on a silver platter. She has had to overcome some serious obstacles along the way, including epilepsy.

Leslie was kind enough to pause her busy schedule long enough to give Rockin’ God’s House some insights about her music, her exciting experiences on the set of Adrenaline, and some encouraging words for anyone who is facing serious trials in life.

Thanks, Leslie, for taking the time to answer a few questions for Rockin’ God’s House. Your music is top-notch, and it has both an incredibly catchy pop sound and an endearing personality—and all in just four songs for your first release with INOV8. How long did it take to complete that four-song EP? Was it hard work or did it unfold easily? It’s always interesting to hear about an artist’s recording experience.

It was a lot of dedication and hard work, but it was a lot of fun too. There’s a lot of work in the music business that most people don’t realize, but as soon as I got into the studio and in front of the mic, I felt like I’d come home. I recorded the first three songs (“Fall Down,” “For the First Time,” and “Hold on to Me”) back in 2008 and was just waiting for the perfect timing. I certainly didn’t realize that I would be waiting four years for that timing to take place. I was starting to get really impatient and wondering if it would ever happen, until “Clueless” came along. It became the glue to the whole EP. It brought every song together. It wasn’t until 2012 after the song was written that I realized it was also a song against bullying. It is a peppy way to get out the message of accepting who you are and who God made you to be. It’s all about realizing that when you accept and love yourself for who you are, you are actually taking power away from the people who are picking on you. It’s because of “Clueless” that the EP is titled Just Me. After surrendering, accepting, and embracing the realization of who God really is, it’s easy to say, “I am who I am, and I’m happy with it.”

“Fall Down” is a very powerful worship song. My heart responded to it immediately. The melodies and your vocal performance in it are just gorgeous. Tell me a little about the song’s origin. If you wrote it, did you start with the lyrics or the music? If someone else wrote it, what made you select that particular song for the album?

Thank you very much! I didn’t write “Fall Down.” When I picked my first three songs, I was finally learning to fully accept and embrace my epilepsy. I chose “Fall Down” because it was my way of surrendering my fears, worries, anger, and frustration to God. It was me saying, “Okay, God, I’m giving this to you. I’m going to spend my energy praising you instead of being angry with you. I’m laying it all down at your feet and trusting in your plan for my life.”

The YouTube video for your song “Clueless” does something unique compared to what we usually see in today’s over-serious pop music industry: it is funny! It has a charming, even innocent/nostalgic feel to it, which is very rare to see in an industry where even the more family-friendly Disney Channel pop stars are sexualized in their videos. How did you and your team come up with the idea?

The idea of doing a song like “Clueless” had always been in the back of my mind. I wanted a song that was funny—one that kids could just have fun with. I remember when I was a teenager, Relient K was always playing before youth services. We’d listen to songs like “Sadie Hawkins Dance” and “Mood Rings” to just relax everyone and give us a chance to be goofy (also to get a lot of energy out from sitting in school all day so we could actually pay attention when our youth pastor was speaking). That is what I wanted for “Clueless”—just a fun song, a song that displays my personality, because I’m a total goofball! So of course the video had to be goofy as well. The director, Joseph Q. Simpkins from Living Water Films, understood that concept as well. He was the one who came up with the roller skating idea. I personally didn’t realize that roller skating was still such a big thing, but when I saw some of the skaters doing their tricks during the shoot I saw how wrong I was! [laughs]

Was it fun shooting a video in a roller rink? Frankly, I would’ve been terrified. I can’t skate. Once I get going, I just go straight until I run into the wall. How long did you have to skate to do all of those takes for the shoot?

I can’t skate either! I’m the clumsiest person ever. “Clueless” really is based on my life. Other than not being able to find my home while I’m in my driveway, I’ve done every single thing in that song. My way of stopping when I was skating was just to skate right into the wall, or I ran into someone else and they stopped me! I was at the rink from 7:00 AM to 11:30 PM. It was definitely a long day, though it didn’t seem like it at all. It was so much fun!

Your four-song EP is fantastic. Is there a full-length album in the works?

Yes, actually there is! It’s a praise and worship album, and I am so excited about it. So far we have six songs completed. The plan is for it to be released in 2014, but we are still trying to raise the funds for three to four more songs to finish it by then.

Do you have any upcoming shows that you’d like music fans to know about?

I had a sort of mini-tour in August and September. Right now, I’m trying to get things in order for my upcoming album, including raising funds. It’s always hard around the holidays because churches are all getting ready for their own Christmas services. Also travel is sort of iffy during the winter months as well, so it’s the perfect time to take care of the paperwork and business end of things. However, I am planning on starting up another tour in the spring.

You’ve got a cameo in the upcoming feature film Adrenaline, which, for our reader’s info, is a Christian film about street racers and drag racing. You sang the Star-Spangled Banner at one of the filmed races. I’ve always gotten the impression that movies are exhausting to make. What was your experience like? Was it an all-day thing?

Mine was a little more relaxed since I wasn’t doing any of the acting; but the actors were there around 6:00 AM every day. I was there for the weekend of “The Big Race” and got to just hang out behind the scenes. I wasn’t needed until Saturday afternoon. I had to report to hair and make-up by 5:00 and was done filming around 7:30 or so.

Were you nervous to sing while cameras were rolling? That must have felt a little different from just performing a show live.

I was nervous, but at the same time I wasn’t. It was a huge adrenaline rush (no pun intended). I was nervous because I only had one shot to get it right. It wasn’t the type of song that if you forget the words no one will notice. And, unlike a live show, if I messed up, it wouldn’t just be forgotten. It would be immortalized on film and would be in a lot of people’s movie collections to be heard over and over. It was quite a bit of pressure. However, I read up on the story of how the National Anthem was written, and tried to picture what the writer was seeing, stuck on a ship that was attacking our nation and still seeing our flag raised and flying in the air. It’s an inspiring story, and I sang it to the One who gave us our freedom—the One whom this country was founded upon. So, I trusted God to help me through it. It also helped that I had already done my music video and knew what to expect.

The movie has some great actors, including some recognizable names like John Schneider (who played Jonathan Kent in Smallville and Bo Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard) and John Schlitt (lead singer of Petra). Did you get a chance to meet any of these cast members while you were filming?

I had met John Schlitt a few times already, so it was pretty awesome when he came up, gave me a big hug, and told me it was nice to see me again. As for John Schneider, all I could think of was “oh my goodness, it’s Superman’s dad!!!” Smallville was one of my favorite shows and getting to meet Jonathan Kent was a big deal for me. Also, I did a little mini-improv video with the star [of Adrenaline] Michael Rosander where he asked for my autograph on my album.

Every film production is different. What was the mood on the set? Was it really serious and intense or were people relaxed and goofing off?

It was awesome! Joseph Q. Simpkins, who directed my music video, was also the director for this movie, and he is a huge prankster. He knew how much I liked John Schneider and how big of a crush I had on Tom Welling [who played Clark Kent in Smallville], so he decided to play a prank on me. About half an hour after I finished filming my part, Joseph came running up to me and told me he had one more scene to film and had limited time to do it. He rushed me into a trailer where John Schneider was on the phone. I was acting really calm on the outside, but on the inside I was having an inner-monologue of “don’t be an idiot, don’t be an idiot, don’t be an idiot.” [laughs] So, I walked in and waited for him to be done with his conversation. Right after he hung up, he looked over to me and said, “Sorry, I was talking to Tom Welling and man can he talk.” As soon as he said it I let out a huge squeak. I immediately caught the devilish look in his and Joseph’s eyes. I couldn’t believe they actually got me, but it’s kinda cool to say that John Schneider played a prank on me. He did tell me later that he was actually on the phone with Tom Wopat [Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard] instead of Tom Welling. Plus I got to be there while they filmed a really important scene.

Your bio describes you as the “extroverted overcomer,” and, on a more serious note, you earned that name because of some real adversities you’ve overcome in life—specifically with epilepsy. That condition caused you to experience some difficult trials when you were younger. What was the most difficult part of that chapter in your life?

The most difficult part was having my life flipped upside down. All of a sudden, everything changed. One day I was able to have sleepovers and hang out with friends, the next I couldn’t. I went from being able to go to youth group all-nighters, to leaving at 10:00. And worst of all, I went from being popular to being the freak. I lost a lot of friends because of it. And while it doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, when you’re a teenager having a social life is everything.

That would be incredibly difficult. Yet, instead of having a pity party, you’ve turned it into a praise party, if I may use the term. In all of your press, you’re constantly turning it around and praising God. How did you arrive at such a positive attitude?

It took me a long time to get that positive attitude. For years I definitely wasn’t there. I was really good at putting on the mask of “everything is fine and dandy,” but in reality I hated everything and everyone, including myself. Then during a seizure I had a dream. I’d never had a dream during a seizure before and haven’t had one since. In the dream I was swimming in my grandmother’s pool, and I couldn’t swim. I saw my mom on the side of the pool screaming, but I didn’t know what she was saying. All of a sudden I heard a voice saying, “Why do you hate me? Don’t you think I have a reason for this?” I had no response, and the dream ended. I found out later that during that seizure while I was dreaming my mom was next to me the whole time praying out loud. It was after that seizure that things started to change. It hasn’t been easy, but it started forming me into the person I am today. I used to think my epilepsy was a curse or a punishment; now I realize it’s a blessing instead. As I said, it made me into the woman I am, and it helped me relate to those who are going through tough times as well.

What advice can you give to anyone who is in the middle of a similar trial—where things out of their control are making life very difficult, even to the point of experiencing rejection?

No matter how awful things are right now, something good will come out of it if you open your heart and allow yourself to see it. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but it will happen. Don’t waste precious energy on negative emotion; instead use it to trust that God has a reason for it. God said that He would never give us more than we can handle. Know that whatever it is you’re going through, God knows you’re strong enough to handle it, and that’s an encouraging thought.